I know tomorrow may be a hard day for many in the Virginia Tech community. The tragedy of April 16, 2007 is one I felt keenly, though I lived and worked nearly 800 miles away and had no meaningful connection to Virginia Tech at the time.

Just eight months earlier, on August 24, 2006, our sleepy Vermont community made national news when a gunman went looking for his estranged girlfriend, a local schoolteacher. In his pursuit, he shot her mother, also a schoolteacher, in her home, which happened to be in my neighborhood. He then took his assault to our local elementary school, my children’s school, killing a dear friend and colleague and injuring others.

While the scale and circumstances were profoundly different, one never forgets a violent assault like that. As the events of April 16 made the news, I imagined the Virginia Tech community’s terror, grief, and rage, just as I was still processing my own. And when I visited the memorial on campus last spring, I grieved anew.

As I reflect this morning, I realize these tragedies are not mine or yours; they are ours. Our collective conscience and common humanity make these tragic events ours to reckon with and share. Gun violence continues to shape the lives of untold millions, and notably, racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionally affected.

Just yesterday, the NPR program 1A featured a story about the effects of gun violence on our nation’s youth; it was a difficult and moving broadcast and one I’m glad I listened to. 

The tragedies of August 24, 2006 and April 16, 2007 were just two of thousands of clarion calls I’ve heard across my lifetime. Understanding the root causes of violence and the various inequities and maladies within our society — as well as ways to ameliorate and confront these injustices — has been the life’s work of many, if not most of us, in our School of Education community.

This commitment is expressed in small and large ways; it might take the form of active listening in an advising meeting, being fully present in a moment with a colleague, or through our teaching, research, service, or advocacy. In our own public and private ways, I believe we are all striving to make this community of ours, and the world, a little kinder, gentler, wiser, and more just. 

I thank my Virginia Tech colleagues for welcoming me into the community and for the opportunity to learn from and with all of them. They — and their service to our school and global community — bring great hope to my days. Together, I believe we can change the world for the better, albeit sometimes just one minute, one meeting, or one day at a time.

Let’s never forget, and let’s never cease working toward a more just and peaceful world.  

Kristin Gehsmann, EdD, is director of the Virginia Tech School of Education.